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District to study computers
by Kevin Haney Daily News Staff Writer
The Board of Education wants to learn how much garbage went into a fouled-up $26 million computer system, and how much it will take to get the garbage out of the system.
The board voted yesterday, 8-1, to hire a local computer consulting firm to evaluate the installation and operation of its new payroll and bookkeeping computer system.
The board hired Ram Technologies Inc. to do "a root cause analysis" of the School District's computer system. It approved a $52,800 contract.
The system left thousands unpaid or underpaid, sent paychecks to retired and dead people, and cut off about 50 district suppliers and contractors.
It also has created a six-week delay in the district's bookkeeping, which has cramped the district's ability to produce a budget for the next school year.
The board was prodded by Common Pleas Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe, who is overseeing a cleanup of the 5-month-old mess.
Dembe is hearing a case brought by three unions representing teachers and academic staff, custodians and bus drivers, and school police officers.
The unions asked for court oversight after the district failed to correct payroll problems by October. In a memo to board members yesterday before the vote, two district officials said Dembe had recommended "an impartial third-party review" of the computer system.
Dembe said yesterday that most of the system's major problems had been eliminated, but she wanted to root out and fix remaining glitches.
The judge said she was worried that problems could arise as pay rates changed, especially with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers contract up for negotiation this year.
Dembe said district representatives agreed two weeks ago to an outside review after meeting with her and union representatives.
The judge meets with the representatives every two weeks to monitor computer performance.
The only board member to vote against hiring Ram was Jacques Lurie, a computer consultant who chairs the board's technology committee.
Lurie said afterward that he opposed hiring Ram because the same firm several years ago had done strategic planning for the district's computer needs.
He said the board should hire a firm that had no prior dealings with the district, to ensure complete objectivity.
District officials in their memo noted that Ram "has had no previous involvement with any part" of the payroll and accounting operations.
The contract with Ram adds to the price of a system that has cost the district $26 million over the last two years to install. The system was originally projected two years ago to cost about $10 million.
It replaced several smaller systems developed by the district over the last 20 years.
The new system was designed by American Management Systems, a national firm providing commercial and government database systems.
Installation costs escalated as AMS did a detailed diagnosis of the district's computers.
The district also has acknowledged problems with training its employees to use the new system.
-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), February 13, 2000
-- (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 13, 2000.